K-5 Curriculum Newsletter

December 2021

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Why Kids Should Use Their Fingers in Math

If you have ever watched a young child who is just beginning to understand numbers and how to put quantities together (early addition) you will often see students using objects and tools to count. The most obvious tool for students to use is their fingers. It is no coincidence that we have ten fingers and our number system is based around the number ten. Although many teachers and students see using your fingers as unsophisticated and a habit that needs to be broken, there is surprising neuroscience that shows the importance of an area of our brain that “sees” fingers, well beyond the time and age that people use their fingers to count.


The research was published by Ilaria Berteletti and James R. Booth that analyzed a specific region of our brains that is dedicated to the perception and representation of fingers. This region is known as the somatosensory finger area. Researchers found that when 8 to 13-year-olds were given complex subtraction problems, the somatosensory finger area lit up, even though the students did not use their fingers. Other researchers have found that the better students’ knowledge of their fingers was in the first grade, the higher they scored on number comparison and estimation in the second grade.


Researchers found that when 6-year-olds improved the quality of their finger representation, they improved their number sense including counting and number order. Surprisingly, the quality of the 6-year-old’s finger representation was a better predictor of future performance on math tests than their scores on tests of cognitive processing.


So get out those fingers and start celebrating kids who use them to count, add, and compare numbers. And if you ever catch yourself hiding your fingers under the table while you use them to count or add, take them out and proudly use the tools you have available.

Ways to Utilize Strategy Groups During Writing

In elementary classrooms, we often think of guided reading groups for small group instruction. Small group instruction, also known as strategy groups, is not limited to reading, but it is also very effective in writing. Strategy groups are small groups of students (3-5) who all need support with a certain skill. During the strategy group, the teacher provides targeted instruction by teaching a skill, modeling using the skill, and providing students an opportunity to practice the skill. The structure mirrors the structure of the mini-lesson, and it should be completed in around 10 minutes. These groups can be pulled during independent writing time during the writing block. Strategy groups are an effective way to support the most number of students during a writing block. In the time a teacher would individually conference with 1 student, the teacher could have met with 4 in a strategy group. Both conferences and strategy groups should be incorporated throughout the week in writing.


During a strategy group lesson, it is essential that students are given a specific strategy to implement into their own writing. Just like with the mini-lesson, it is important to have a clear teaching point and example to discuss with the students. Teachers can utilize their own writing, a mentor text from the unit, or another text that showcases the strategy that the teacher is teaching. Begin by teaching the skill to the students and show how an author did this work. Remember, you do not need to read the whole text, just the section that includes the writing move. Then students can practice applying that skill to a section of the teacher’s writing or a writing piece the whole class was working on. This is the time when the teacher is supporting the student's application of the skill. Then, the students can go back to writing independently after they practiced the skill. The teacher will see the application of the skill in the student’s completed piece.


Here are some tips on utilizing strategy groups in the writing block:

  • Present the students with the topics for your strategy groups for the following week. Students can sign up for which skill they would like to learn more about.

  • Implement “Feedback Friday” where on Fridays a group of students chooses a section of their writing that they would like feedback on. Teachers can create strategy groups based on what they see in the writing.

  • Implement a shared writing piece with the students who are in the strategy group. The teacher and students can work together to write, and whenever the group meets, this shared piece can be where the students practice their writing.

  • During reading, note in mentor texts any writing moves the author makes. Mark and label them with a post-it note. This will help identify a mentor text to use during writing instruction.

  • Utilize writing centers to incorporate strategy groups into the writing block. Just like with guided reading in reading centers, the students would meet with a teacher during one of the centers. This structure can help organize the writing block.

How to use the Can Dos to Differentiate Instruction

Where to start in instruction with ELLs is often difficult for any teacher. This is because all ELLs differ in terms of their knowledge in each of the language domains. WIDA has developed the Can Do Descriptors to help guide teachers in each of the language domains for each ELL. The Can-Do Descriptors are individualized and tell what a student Can Do in Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Writing. It is a useful tool that can help teachers differentiate lessons so that the student is working at a level that they can succeed at and ultimately be graded on.


The Can-Do Descriptors help teachers understand what ELLs can do at different levels in each of the language domains and within the grade, level clusters identified. The Can-Do Descriptors are based on the Access test which is usually taken in the Spring of each school year. These scores change year to year and therefore what the student can do changes year to year as well. Each score differs from student to student and will identify whether the child may only be capable of pointing or labeling to being able to do a research project on their own with some vocabulary support.


ESL teachers know how to scaffold and how to use the Can-Do Descriptors. They are always modifying their instruction so that they can challenge their students based on what WIDA has identified their students can do. ESL teachers are a great resource when it comes to learning more about how to use these descriptors to individualize instruction and to grade students.

Keeping Moving into the New Year!

As staff and students prepare for a well-deserved break with family and friends over winter recess, maybe there is a way to think about staying active. Prepare yourself and your students to keep moving into the New Year! Whether you are indoors or outdoors, there are fun and productive ways to stay active and have fun while doing it. The following are fun ways to bring Physical Education and Wellness goals home. Let's stay active, have fun, and keep moving into 2022!


  • DEAM Calendar- Follow challenges from a Drop Everything And Move Calendar

  • Family Yoga Night

  • Mediate

  • Backyard Games: Cornhole, Horseshoes, Spikeball, bocce ball

  • Family Bowling.

  • Family Dance Party- Line dances and Zumba

  • Shoveling! (If it snows…)

  • Have a jump rope challenge. Who can do the most in a minute?

  • Family Morning Flex: Start each morning with a 10-minute stretch before breakfast.

  • Go ice-skating or roller-skating.

  • Bundle up and take a hike or a neighborhood walk.

  • Step Marathon: Track your steps and see how many you can get before the end of the break.

  • Unplug. Unplug. Unplug…

Dear Data Guy

Start Strong Parent Reports will be mailed to parents in the next month. All teachers can also view the Start Strong Parent Reports through their PearsonAccessNext account right now. When you view the reports, first reference the Start Strong Score Interpretation Guide which is posted at the bottom of the newsletter. The guide outlines the content domain, major content cluster, reporting concept, number of items, and number of points in each content area. Of note, are the reporting concepts that begin on page 26. When you speak with parents about the assessment, it is important to outline what the test asked the student to do, how the student performed, how you are helping the student, and how the student can be helped at home or some talking notes for parents to speak with his/her child.

Have a great holiday!

Notes from Mr. Scotto

December is a great month for reflection. As we prepare for Winter Recess, it is also time to think about the progress our students have made to date. We know that this year's curricular progress is certainly different from pre-COVID years (and that is fine).


If we know that things are "different" right now, have we also adjusted our approach to instruction, assessment, and overall academic support? If the answer to this question is yes, then take some time to share your successes with a colleague. If the answer is no, it's not too late to look at new ways to meet our students' needs and help them as we begin 2022.


I leave you with this quote by Mike Anderson:

  • "We know that students crave a sense of belonging and connection with others, so let's make sure to meet that need through their academic work."
  • Follow Mike on Twitter for more information - https://twitter.com/balancedteacher

Best wishes for a restful winter break!

HTSD Curriculum Department

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum and Instruction


Supervisors of K-5 Staff

Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Sandra Jacome, ESL K-12, Title I Pre-K

Bob Pispecky, Interim Art and Music

Laura Leidy-Stauffer, K-5 ELA and Social Studies

Katie Mallon, K-5 Math and Science & ESSA Grant